Mid-term planning – key questions for trustees

Article date
5 May 2020
Primary interest
Voluntary sector
Charities have spent the last eight weeks responding and adapting to the impact of coronavirus on their beneficiaries, services, staff and volunteers, with outstanding dedication.

Your charity will undoubtedly also be looking at the mid-term, and trying to navigate this new landscape. This article is based on an NCVO webinar from last week and summarises and expands upon some incredibly useful questions that trustee boards can ask themselves, both for the continuation of any short-term planning and looking ahead to the mid-term. Key resources and further reading are linked through the article and in the further resources section at the end.

Governance in a crisis

These may not be ‘normal’ times but good governance practices will really help you right now to take that crucial step back and continue making decisions collectively as a board in the best interests of your charity. There may be challenges with technology or other demands on our time, however if we keep working as a team: encouraging, listening, supporting, and making informed decisions together, our trustee boards are likely to become even stronger during this time!

Short-term key questions for trustees
  1. How can we keep meeting and making collective decisions remotely? The most important thing is that the board keeps meeting so that the governance of the charity continues. Technology is important but it’s not everything. Keeping agendas simple and clear with key information in advance will enhance your meetings so crucial decisions are made at the right time. Top tips from NCVO on keeping your board engaged. 
  2. How do we offer support to our staff and volunteers? Everyone is affected by the current pandemic. What are the implications of the current situation on their wellbeing and their ability to do their job? Take a look at key resources for supporting individuals, and wellbeing guidance.
  3. What decisions should the board make and what can and should be delegated? Remember to have clear lines of reporting, set limits on any delegated authority and record your decisions.
  4. Are we clear on our financial position and do we have a clear cash flow forecast? Cash is king right now and keeping track of actual cash in and out of your accounts is crucial. Cash flow forecasting will help you to see what is coming up on the horizon: take a conservative approach to income and include even the smallest expenditure as this can add up to significant amounts. Cash flow forecasting will need to be carried out more frequently than usual right now (monthly, weekly or even daily) due to the pandemic and how frequently will depend on your financial circumstances. Take a look at this free webinar on cash flow forecasting from the Cranfield Trust.
  5. Is our charity at risk of insolvency? Charities need to ensure they are not continuing to provide services whilst insolvent, otherwise there is a risk of personal liability for trustees. It also means that services may be disrupted abruptly instead of adapted in good time. If you are concerned, always seek advice as early as possible. However, by undertaking regular cash flow forecasting, there will be no surprises and you may be able to address concerns early.
  6. Can we take advantage of government support, eg furloughing staff or fundingYour short and mid-term planning will help you to determine what resources your charity needs and when, which will then feed into your fundraising strategy.
  7. Should we stop or refocus activity or funds and are we able to do this given any restrictions? Before doing so, consider your charitable objects and any funding restrictions for any existing funding streams.
  8. Can we partner with others to continue to deliver our charitable purpose at this time? Take a look at service updates here.
Mid-term scenario planning

Scenario planning is making assumptions on what the future is going to be and how your operating environment will change over time. It is impossible to be certain about what will happen but mapping various scenarios can help plan for different outcomes.

  1. What are we most uncertain about in the future?
  2. In what ways might these uncertainties impact on our charity?
  3. Identify a range of different scenarios based on these. How might the fallout of each impact on your:
    1. beneficiaries and the work you do?
    2. staff, their wellbeing and their ability to do their job? (including scenarios for re-opening premises or any changes to how you deliver services – always take advice on staffing issues)
    3. income and investments?
    4. suppliers and funders?
    5. partners and other key stakeholders?
  4. Develop loose plans for how you would handle these outcomes.
  5. Identify indicators you might expect to see for the scenarios, ie how will you know if you are on track or if there are concerns? What indicators or signs will you expect to see and when?
  6. Keep reviewing and tweaking based on reality. Identify how often you need to meet, what you need to review, when and how so you can address indicators in your scenario planning and also keep looking ahead.
Keep working as a team!

This can’t be stressed enough. The sector is providing essential services at this time and many of us are juggling a lot of responsibilities, which are not to be underestimated. However, this current period will not last forever and how we move through it and support each other on our trustee boards and within our staff and volunteer teams, will determine how we move forward as a charity; there’s every reason for this to be positive, even if it’s challenging. Stay connected and do get in touch with the RVA Advice Service if you need support in your role.

Further resources to assist trustees
You can also:
  • Take our survey for trustees and managers – have your say in what follow on support you would like as a trustee or manager in the coming months.
  • Contact advice@rva.org.uk for one-to-one support and advice on governance or legal queries, including further support around scenario planning.